At 7:31am this morning a text arriving stating that "the ground isnt playable this evening". Ordinarily that would be a disaster, at least as far as cricket's concerned, but today it wasn't actually relevant, as it had come from Fitz groundsman Dave Norman, and Remnants was playing it's first mid-week away game of the year. An apology to Dave for the mix-up - imagine if it hadn't been wet and he'd prepared the wicket only for nobody to turn up - was followed by a quick check that our game at St John's was still on (which indeed it was).
Very little happened for the next ten hours (again, taking only the cricketing perspective), before a crescendo of activity just before 6pm as 22 men descended on St John's College's magnificent playing fields. However, it turned it wasn't a match for men, but for boys - or really one boy in particular, as Remnant Ferdie Rex absolutely stole the show: he took a stunningly nonchalant one-handed outfield catch; he bowled two cheap (six-ball) overs for just 7 runs; and he hit an elegant and undefeated 47* (off 56 balls) when only one other player from either team made more than 14. The only problem was that he did all this playing for St John's, despite the facts that i) he has no formal affiliation with the college and ii) there was a spare spot for him in the Remnants eleven if he'd wanted it. However the Alastair Campbell spin on this is that, given the close result, Remnants must have managed the considerably greater team effort.
The match certainly began with Remnants on top, as Daniel Mortlock (3/13) and Eli Ellwood (1/17) kept the opposition batsmen scoreless for 11 balls, by which time Eli had already taken the day's first wicket. Ewan Campbell (0/14) then kept up the good work, and St John's were struggling at 34/2 after 8 overs . . .
. . . at which point the rain came, and it seemed that they might escape with an honourable draw. The Remnants fielders then spent the next five minutes trying to get the covers onto the pitch, first struggling to work out which way round they went and then having to deal with the fact we'd aligned them over the wrong strip. An ironic cheer went up by the time the covers were finally in the right place . . . at which point the rain stopped and they had to be wheeled off again.
Scoring was, if anything, even harder on the wet wicket, and Andy Owen (0/12), Dave Williams (2/16) and Julius Rix (0/6) all came away with deservedly economical figures. Johns Richer and Young, Julius and Ewan were all brilliant in the field as well, although it was a testament to the St John's batsmen's speedy running that we managed just the one run out (when John Richer combined a superb running pick-up with a terrible throw, only for 'keeper Ev Fox to save the day with a spectacular diving stump-mangling). At the end of the innings Ferdie Rex was duly clapped from the field having hit 59% of his team's runs (and having survived an errant throw from Rob Harvey which would have given him a nice bruise), but it was hard to imagine that we would fail to overhaul a meagre target of 80 . . .
. . . although it became a lot easier to imagine over the next half hour as we slumped to 18/4 in the 7th over. Potential match-winners Julius Rix (6 off 7 balls) and John Richer (6 off 18 balls) had both made good starts on the sticky wicket, but both were rather unlucky, Julius being skittled by easily the fastest bowler of the day (who took 2/14 from his 4 overs) and then John falling victim to Ferdie's moment of youthful genius when, running full-pelt towards the mid-wicket boundary, he poked a hopeful hand out and the ball stuck, giving him just enough room to pull up before crossing the boundary.
Our fifth wicket pair of John Young and Andy Owen then dug in, which was the right thing to do, but the overs started to tick away alarmingly: at the end of the 14th we had just 45 runs and so needed 36 more from the remaining 36 balls. From there it was a horrifically tense game of cat and mouse: we'd get a bit of a break with a few wides or an occasional boundary; then there'd be a little sequence of dot balls which would even things up again. There were a number of moments when even one four would have decisively tipped the balance in our favour, and there were even a few moment when it seemed we'd managed it . . . but a fielder would make a stunning stop, or the ball would pull up inside the boundary. Still, with just 5 needed from the last over we were surely favourites - we could even do it in singles if need be. Indeed, that's what came from the first two deliveries of the over, and once again we were on top, with the safety net of even just two singles from the next four balls being good enough for a tie. Andy smashed the next ball straight back at the bowler - it could have been a match-winning four, but instead was just a lucky second grab away from being caught and bowled. There was probably a run available on the rebound but it wasn't taken. Still, three chances was fine . . . until three became two and then two became one.
With two runs needed off the final delivery just to tie the horror we'd been denying - failing to chase 80 - really was staring us in the face. One more scoreless delivery and it'd be the first failed chase of 80 or less since 1991 (and only the 7th time ever). And that's what it looked like had happened when Andy's final shot went straight to the mid-wicket fielder . . . but then we all saw that it had gone through him! On a dry ground that would have been the winning boundary, but instead Andy (37* off 54 balls) and John (14* off 31 balls) only just got the two needed to tie (and with John stranded mid-pitch when the throw came back he really should have been run out, but everyone had just sort of stopped).
The neutral observer presumably would have thought it was a fantastic match, with a superb finish that gave both teams a share of the game. However from the Remnants point of view it was very hard not to think of it as an unnecessary loss, particular given the number of wickets - and good batsmen - we still had in hand at the end. The neutral observer probably would also have been most envious of the 22 of us having gotten to play cricket at all, let alone on St John's beautiful ground, but to acknowledge such a hypothetical opinion would require objectivity . . .